Taking a Leap for Male Nude Project Promoting Body Positivity

Taking a Leap for Male Nude Project Promoting Body Positivity

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When I spoke with photographer Anthony Manieri, he was sitting at home in the middle of editing images from a routine event before preparing to fly to Los Angeles to do another shoot for a personal project that has been more successful than he ever anticipated. He didn’t expect a one-off shoot to turn into a personal project taking him around the world creating portraits of diverse, mostly gay men to promote positive body imagery.

A self-taught professional photographer based in Toronto, Canada, Manieri gained notoriety with his wedding photography (he’s in Martha Stewart this month), but these days he shoots everything from food to fashion to portraits to events, only doing the occasional wedding. A new project has taken most of his focus. He now flies around the world creating black and white portraits of nude men in an effort to promote and celebrate body positivity, and he calls the project “Arrested Movement.”

These days, there seem to be countless campaigns related to positive body image for women. From corporations spending millions on advertising portraying “real women” to photographers offering boudoir sessions for the “everyday lady,” there’s a cultural shift emerging around what it means to be a “real woman.” So Manieri decided to do something different.

Whenever you hear about body positivity in the media, it’s always directed at women. And rightfully so, because they get a lot of bullshit sent their way… But you know, we suffer from body issues as well. I feel like straight men suffer from it a little more silently than gay men do, because when you’re in the gay community, you’re judged by the way you look.

Manieri’s life went through a turbulent time a few years ago, and it prompted him to begin studying ancient arts of meditation and mindfulness.

My life kind of shifted a few years ago. I sold my company, my dad passed, I kind of took a couple of years off, tried to heal and in doing so I gained some weight … and I threw myself into spirituality, meditation, and mindfulness.

Around this time, he also began to study the work of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher who photographed frozen water crystals.

The gist of it is, [Emoto] would take two mason jars, fill them with water, label one love, label one hate. To the one labeled love, he would profess love to it, saying ‘you’re amazing, you’re beautiful, you’re wonderful,’ and he would play Mozart to it. To the other one, he would tell it things like ‘you’re ugly, you’re terrible, you’re worthless,’  and play things like heavy death metal to it. He would take droplets of water from each, put them on a slide, freeze them, and look at them under a microscope. The one that was professed love to looked like a beautiful crystal. The one that was professed hate to it, looked like cancer. So his research was basically saying that because we are made up of almost 70% of water, if we’re negative to ourselves, or negative to another person, our bodies are alive and they hear that, down to the molecular level. . . . literally everything about that kind of clicked on the airplane. Everything in my past experiences, twenty five years of dealing with people not liking their nose in pictures, it all kind of fluttered in my brain and all kind of made sense, and I thought, ‘this is what I’m gonna do.’

On an airplane heading to London two years ago, he had an idea. He hadn’t been doing a lot of artistic work for himself, and had been in an endless cycle of client work, not leaving any room for anything personal.

Back home in Toronto around Christmas, he asked a few people to participate in a shoot, but hoped to fill a whole day to make the studio rental worth the cost. A Facebook post and a few hours later, he had enough volunteers to fill a two-day, twenty-hour shoot. He was astonished.

Manieri began asking his subjects why they came in. They all had relatively similar things to say, and some were going to great lengths to get there, even driving hours through a snowstorm, not considering turning around and giving up.

Why did they come in?

‘Because this is important,’ they said. Some men were coming up to me, telling me they were ill, and they wanted proof that they existed, that they really wanted to be a part of this project. I remember excusing myself and I went outside and I just started sobbing. My assistant came out and asked what was wrong, and I said, ‘This is just supposed to be an art project.’ This is affecting their lives. I’m happy that’s happening, but I didn’t expect this.

News of the project started moving worldwide. Manieri began getting messages from mainland China, South America, Europe, Russia, and elsewhere. He didn’t expect the project to gain international momentum so quickly.  All of the men who’ve participated have been LGBTQ, except for one. Even though Manieri is gay himself, he doesn’t limit the project exclusively to gay men. But that seems to be the where this message has hit a nerve most.

“It feels like there’s purpose to this project. I can read what people are feeling, and I can actually see it.  When I’m photographing them, there’s a moment when I feel like I’m holding space for them. Don’t get me wrong: some guys come in because they want to be photographed well, nude. But the majority that come in, they’re coming in for the message… it sounds stupid, but if it helps change one person’s perception of themselves, then that’s great. It’s helped me, completely.”

On the photography side, Manieri shoots Canon, and since he sold his studio, he just rents studio spaces and lighting equipment wherever he goes. It’s a challenge to keep the images consistent in the different locations. Everything is shot on a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, tethered to his camera. He tries to make the images as cohesive as possible, but it’s difficult when shooting in different studios every time.

As far as posing goes, he got the idea for dancer poses from the image that started the project. He was photographing a man in London, and at the end of the session, he jumped in the air. Manieri asked if he would do that, again, but without his clothes on. He agreed. The man used to be a dancer, and when thinking about this project, Manieri decided to play off of that, since there was a reaction to that image. He used that as a starting point.

So when these men are walking in, some of them are very burly, man’s men, and I have to say, ‘OK, you have to point your toes. I don’t care about your penis — it’s about what you’re showing me in your face.’ I’m looking at the lines in the body, and I want the images to be stoic and celebratory at the same time.

For now, Manieri is trying to figure out where this all leads. He is self-funding the project, and has spent over $40,000 of his own money on it so far, but has received a tremendous amount of positive feedback on the project. He just got back from a shoot in Los Angeles, and heads to Chicago and Dallas next, followed by the east coast of Canada, and then to Europe for the summer. He hopes he’ll be done after that, but people are asking him to travel all over the world to do these shoots. If that’s to happen, he’s going to have to find a way to start making an income off of the project. A plan for an uncensored book is in the works, along with some gallery exhibitions. “It’s not about the money, but if I could get some of that back, that would be amazing.” He’s already photographed over 270 men so far, so he thinks it may turn into a two-book project. He’s also asked other LGBTQ artists about contributing to the book — and they’ve all said yes — by giving them 2-3 images from the series and having the artists reproduce them in their own style. So far, he has a comic book artist, a caricature artist, a watercolor artist, an oil painter, and a sketch artist.

I’m pumped about this. I look forward to see where this goes. If I could just do this right now, that’s all I would do.

Body positivity, or a lack thereof, comes in many forms, and Manieri's images certainly show how the body shapes, colors, and ages of men are just as diverse as those of women -- and are just as beautiful. 

All images used with permission of Anthony Manieri.

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62 Comments

Previous comments

“Is it an issue of economics: e.g. that the number of overweight people in America (the world?) put an undue strain on healthcare systems, thus driving up insurance costs for everyone, etc.? Should we all be striving to fit an idealized and media-defined body standard?”

Yes, we’re all paying for it.
Yes to striving to fit an idealized body standard. Don’t bring in media, nobody is talking about an Adonis-type body image but the idealized body (weight) that’s determined by science. Stick to that.

Anonymous's picture

Good lord, there are so many things wrong and destructive about your attitude in this thread I don't know where to begin. There are all sorts of biological, social and economic factors that contribute to obesity that come into play well before concluding obesity is a "psychological problem" as you say.

If you really care about this issue, and are not just throwing grenades at people who aren't as good at some of the things you are good at for the sake of letting people know they're not like you, I'd start with the link between poverty and obesity:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198075/

There are also biological factors with regards to different people's production of insulin which is the fat storing chemical. So whatever you're doing now to make you so physically healthy and wonderful, could make another person fat without any change in behavior or consumption. We are not all the same:

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes

There are also workplace factors that contribute to obesity. Where does your boss want to see you? Sitting at your desk! Work hours are longer, work follows most of us home now, lunches are spent working to make up for ever increasing productivity goals (doing more with less), etc...

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2879173/

Then there are in fact psychological factors. And one of the great battles people fight is feeling worth investing in. Projects like this might be the first step into caring for oneself which could lead to all sorts of benefits beyond just being physically appealing to you.

What's positive about obsessing about bodies, when before we know it, will all be piles of rotten meat and bones buried in the ground anyways?

Clair Stevenson's picture

My comment is directed to all the other comment readers. Bob Brady's attitude in the initial comment and in follow up comments is exactly why there needs to be body positivity projects such as this one. Mainstream society's status quo tells us that we are not good enough if we don't fit the narrow mold of what they seem as acceptable so that men and women are constantly barraged with negative reinforcement. Only a person who has never struggled a lifetime of weight or body issues can easily have the attitude conveyed by Mr. Brady.

As one of the models who just got to experience being a part of this project photo shoot this past weekend in LA, I can tell you that it is transformative to be able to take a leap of faith into something quite scary as literally baring it all and then to see the beautiful, artistic images captured by Anthony's camera. One often never gets to see oneself as others do and for many, it is life changing.

Mr. Brady doesn't make me mad anymore. Every one has a right to be an asshole. I know better now and feel empowered by having gotten to participate in this project.

Thank you, Anthony

Clair Stevenson's picture

I thought for a minute about not responding, because every time you write something, it's just more evidence to everyone that you are digging yourself deeper into "asshole" territory.

You have totally missed the purpose of this body positivity project. It not a fat positivity project, it is a project that says "no matter what size you are (fat/skinny), or age, or skin color, you are worthy of love and a valued person. There is beauty in your existence and your life should be celebrated".

Perhaps if people felts better about themselves, they wouldn't feel the need to talk down to others that they don't feel are doing everything they should to fit into the "normal" mold.

In conclusion, you make the assumption that I am morbidly obese and that because I am fat and lazy, you should just celebrate me, 'just cuz'. Actually, I am not morbidly obese. I just happen to be a 6'2" 235# genetically stocky man who had been told all his life that because I wasn't 175# that the chart that is supposed to gauge height/weight proportion for everyone, not taking into account Bone and muscle mass.genetics, that I was 'fat' and therefore not as good as the normal skinny people.

So I am going to go one loving the person that I am a treating everyone with dignity and respect every human being deserves and you can go on being judgemental and bitter and soothe your self in the delusion that it all about tough love.

Bob,

With one or two exceptions, the men in these photos hardly qualify as obese, and they are unlikely to suffer from weight-related health issues. This is what most men, especially middle-aged and older men, look like. There are no thin people because the point of the project was to provide a rare space for bodies who don't fit culturally defined aesthetic standards.

Your obsession with "fat people" is unhealthy. You never miss an opportunity on this site to declare that being fat is a choice - a question of character - rather than being a tangled web of social and biological factors, as an earlier commenter correctly pointed out. Your Ayn Randian pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps worldview prevents you from grasping this. I don't believe the photographer or anyone on this forum has stated that being morbidly obese is a positive or healthy choice, however, overcoming obesity is not as simple as you make it out to be. People don't "allow themselves" to become fat. It's nice that you've personally managed to avoid getting fat, but perhaps this has something to do with your income bracket: maybe you don't live in a poor neighborhood that lacks full-sized supermarkets, and you can afford to eat healthy foods rather than cheap, over-processed foods. I assume you're American, so perhaps you're one of the lucky ones who can afford proper health care. And yes, maybe there is a genetic component as well. If you care so much about the health of "fat people", why don't you spend more time on these issues, which play a far more serious role in obesity rates, rather than railing against a few small, well-intentioned photography projects.

For the love of god... Give it a rest, old man! Your overly regurgitated, baseless and hateful rhetoric is as tired and busted as you are.

Seriously... Find something else to do with your retirement, man. Lest you end up like the sedentary sloths that you so falsely claim were a part of this photo project.

You’ve set your entire premise on the shaky foundation of your own inferiority complex. Everything that you keep copying and pasting over and over again is based on not one single shred of credible knowledge,or understanding.

Jesus fucking Christ, man! We get it, really... We do. You’re adamant about being a total twat for no good reason, other than to fill your last few moments breathing with complete and utter fuckery. So please, do us all a bloody favour; give your poor, arthritic fingers a holiday, and just shut the fuck up already!

Anonymous's picture

I recommend doing your best to ignore him and not posting any responses to him. He's a contrarian time suck and very predictable.

Good on you for being a part of the project. Takes a lot of guts. But it seems you were in good hands, as the images are striking.

Anonymous's picture

Oh grow up. I made a recommendation based on my opinion and previous experience with you.

Trolling? LOL. You have no idea what you are talking about. So go ahead and "tell mom" on me again and look like a fool.

Anonymous's picture

Any word from the admins?

Looks like you were wrong again.

Michael Holst's picture

How many of these "trolls" have you gotten kicked off the site?

Michael Holst's picture

Well said! Thank you for that.

user-156818's picture

These are beautiful. The poses are wonderful. Kudos to the photographer for coaching non dancers into dancing poses. Hands are some of the most difficult to pose gracefully and he's coached his subjects superbly.

Leigh Miller's picture

Finally...something other than tatty porn with young girls...

user-156929's picture

Tatty porn with old guys?? ;-)

Clair Stevenson's picture

One hopes that was said out of jest to get a chuckle. Age has nothing to do with beauty in the eye of the beholder. And if you think this is porn, then you need to get out more.

If you happen to be young, you too will get old and some snotty-faced git will make a wise ass comment about "old people" and you will be the one to whom they are referring.

For the record, I am 48 and have never felt better in my life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

user-156929's picture

At only 48, I would have thought you'd recognize a winking smiley face. Yes! It was said out of jest to get a chuckle. For the record, I am older than you and have felt a lot better, physically, probably mentally (although I really can't remember :-) ) but not emotionally. Life is good. :-)

Anonymous's picture

Great project Anthony. Nicely executed.

Walid Azami's picture

Tired of the shaming culture, age-shame, fat-shame, skinny-shame, etc... this is great. Good for the men brave enough to do it and the photographer seeking something different than a "perfect" model for his imagery.

alan christie's picture

Inspirational. Very, very well done. I'm not "overweight" and I'm not gay, but this speaks to me. Bravo.

Christos Dikos's picture

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Bojan Novakovic's picture

Great pictures. I read some of the comments and even today people are still in the fantasy land created decades ago by magazines and fashion industry, that if you are not skiny corpse like a model or so well musceled like adonis, you are in one word, ugly. There is beauty in a fat body.

Michael Holst's picture

I thought you didn't debate the subjective? - you've claimed this many many times in the past.

Bojan thinks there's beauty in a fat body which you cannot tell him is wrong because it's his own view.

jonas y's picture

What makes some people so cruel, that they glorify or even encourage others to choose a life of misery?

We all know obesity will lead to one or more of these health problems:

type 2 diabetes,
high blood pressure,
heart disease and strokes,
multiple types of cancer,
spinal issues,
sleep apnea,
joint osteoarthritis,
fatty liver disease,
hormone-related disorders,
kidney disease,
pregnancy problems for women, such as high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cesarean delivery (C-section)

After all, most people do not have a bear fetish. Depending on the level of obesity this reason in itself can render one's private life miserable.

Is shaming others a solution to this problem? I don't know, but I am sure just like smoking, just letting people get fat is not good for themselves.

BTW, my life gets much better after I dropped my fat, there is no comparison.

The most disgusting images I ever saw made by someone who calls himself a photographer. But if he is happy with those images, hurray to him.

Anonymous's picture

Hi Bob :)

The images are nicely done, from a technical standpoint. You may not like the subjects, that’s fine, it’s subjective. I don’t mind the subjects and props to them for the courage. But I do mind the message that the project is supposed to convey. Being overweight or fat is not ok and should not be promoted.

Vladimir Feldman's picture

All that "body positivity" is a thing I just can not grok. I myself am fat. I mean really fat (about 50 kilograms more than I should be). But I never ever would say that it is "normal" or "good". it's bad. It is bad or my health, it is bad for my wallet and it is bad for my image. It is the matter of fact that being fat is BAD. Be you a man or a woman, young or adult does not matter: you either fit or fat. And if you are fat you have to admit that it is NOT RIGHT. And if someone tells you: "Go to gym, loose some weight!" it is not a "fat shaming" it is just a right thing to do. And if someone really "fat shames" you -- he is totally right (if you are not fat due to some disease of course) because it is really shameful to not think about your body and let it become unhealthy.

I applaud your mental sanity.
Check this site https://www.forksoverknives.com/ for a lot of serious, scientific information about a healthy diet.

Anonymous's picture

"Everything is shot on a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, tethered to his camera." Shouldn't that be 'mounted'? Do you really "tether" lenses? No matter.

I'm also trying to work out why I needed to log in to this (and for the desert nudes article), when the only image is the cover image, which is available on the publically viewable hyperlink...

I'm trying to recall who the master photographer was who created abstracts from fat people.

Stephen Ironside's picture

You're right on that first part -- I meant he was shooting tethered (to a computer), not that the lens was tethered to the camera, 'cause that's just silly.

There are numerous other images in the article, so I'm not sure what went wrong when you tried to view it.

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